The January meeting of MahoganyBooks and Very Smart Brothas' book club was attended by a special and unexpected guest

By Virginia Chamlee
February 02, 2021 02:29 PM
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The January meeting of the MahoganyBooks-Very Smart Brothas book club was attended by a special and unexpected guest: former President Barack Obama, who popped in to chat about his new memoir and answer questions from members.

The Jan. 26 virtual gathering was, of course, recorded and Obama shared the surprise on his social media on Tuesday.

Cracking that he was filling in for someone else who had canceled, Obama said he wanted to join the discussion — the group's first since the COVID-19 pandemic began — in order to "support our outstanding African-American independent bookstores."

"I also just wanted to see who the brothers were who named themselves 'The Very Smart Brothas book club,' " Obama joked at the club's meeting, held in advance of the MahoganyBooks' Black History Month celebrations.

Credit: Getty

During a question-and-answer session, Obama answered one member who wondered about how he maintained a sense of optimism even when things might have turned ugly in the world and during his presidency.

His attitude, Obama said, came from "the fact that I tend to take the long view on things, and not the short term ... the trick is to be able to have that kind of long-term perspective but still feel the urgency of now, as Dr. King wrote about."

Obama continued: "When you see a George Floyd or an Eric Garner [who were killed in police custody], that's terrible. That should make you angry. You can't just kind of say, 'Well, it'll take time.' You have to feel pressed now and angry now or sad now, right? Trying to keep those two things in mind at the same time I think is the biggest trick to not just being president but just being a functioning Black person in America."

The former president has spoken about his "anguish" over Floyd's death, which came after Floyd, an unarmed Black man, could be seen pleading for air while being arrested, as an officer pressed a knee into his neck for minutes.

"This shouldn't be 'normal' in 2020 America. It can't be 'normal,' " Obama wrote in a May 2020 Facebook post. "If we want our children to grow up in a nation that lives up to its highest ideals, we can and must be better."

Speaking with the book club, Obama talked about his 2020 memoir, A Promised Land, which reportedly sold 1.7 million copies in its first week on sale, far outpacing other recent presidential memoirs.

Speaking to a 28-year-old member of the club who asked how he pushed aside "feelings of unpreparedness" throughout his career, Obama extolled the virtues of "having patience with yourself" before determining exactly what path you plan to take in life.

"What moves you? What's important to you? What are you passionate about?" he asked. "Cause if you know what that is, then you'll find a way. You'll figure it out."

Barack Obama campaigns in Georgia in November
| Credit: Jessica McGowan/Getty

The book-club conversation took on a more lighthearted tone when one member asked Obama what he thought about wife Michelle Obama's much lauded monochrome Inauguration Day ensemble, which went viral on social media.

"I don't know what it is about y'all, with Michelle and her belts," he said. "I asked Michelle about it at dinner the other night. I said, 'Listen baby, you are gorgeous. You know, I understand completely why you are a fashion icon.' But, I said, 'Was your hair different? 'Cause it didn't look that different.' "

"Anyway, so I don't have an answer other than just knowing she looks good and looks better than me," he continued. "I understand that."